After the NBL raised its game again this season, four genuine contenders have emerged as we reach finals time.
The race for the NBL top four came down to the final game with Melbourne United, Illawarra Hawks, Sydney Kings and the Tasmania JackJumpers earning trips to the playoffs.
For the first time in 35 years, the Perth Wildcats will miss the finals after their heartbreaking overtime loss to the South East Melbourne Phoenix, in the final game of the regular season.
Perth’s pain ensured that Tasmania, in its inaugural season, finished in fourth spot. The JackJumpers’ incredibly earnt the right to take on Melbourne United – a best-of-three Semi Finals series – for a spot in the Finals.
And for the first time in history, NSW rivals the Hawks (second) and Kings (third) will go head-to-head.
All four teams have a legitimate fighting chance at NBL championship glory. Let’s assess their cases.
1st – Melbourne United
After wrapping up first place a week ago, United were able to rest stars Matthew Dellavedova, Jack White and David Barlow against the JackJumpers last weekend. Now the two sides will square off again, this time at full strength.
The defending champions finished the regular season with a 20-8 win-loss record.
United feature a star-studded team with Dellavedova, Jo Lual-Acuil Jr, one of the League’s best centres, and captain Chris Goulding, regarded as one of the NBL’s best.
2nd – Illawarra Hawks
The Hawks began the season as an unknown quantity after overhauling their roster last off-season. Time has been invaluable, as the group continued easing from its reliance on Tyler Harvey.
NBL Next Star Justinian Jessup and imports Antonius Cleveland and Xavier Rathan-Mayes can all step up, while big men Duop Reath and Sam Froling are a constant threat around the ring.
Head coach Brian Goorjian, the NBL’s coaching GOAT, recorded his 800th NBL game in charge at the back end of the season, leading his team to a 19-9 record.
Importantly, a final game win over their rival up the road gives Illawarra home court advantage. They claimed the season series 3-1 against the Kings.
3rd – Sydney Kings
Sydney completely stormed into the Playoffs. They’re the form team.
The 13-game win streak finally ended on Easter Sunday, with coach Chase Buford starting to peel back his star’s minutes.
The Kings were led by star import and MVP finalist Jaylen Adams, who averaged 20.1 points, 6.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds.
The mid-season arrival of NBA championship-winning guard Ian Clark has provided additional experience, while forward Xavier Cooks and big Jarell Martin are also go-to options.
Sydney also finished with a 19-9 record, but behind the Hawks on percentage.
4th – Tasmania JackJumpers
No one would have predicted this.
The JackJumpers finished with a 17-11 record and are the first expansion team to make the finals in their debut season since the Gold Coast Blaze in 2008.
Scott Roth has just been honoured Coach of the Year for leading this side to a nice slice of history.
They certainly kept building from a 2-6 start, leaving their run late. After a final round win over United, they were made to rely on the Phoenix winning in Perth and ending the Wildcats’ 35-year Playoff streak.
Josh Magette and fellow import guard Josh Adams have led the team brilliantly, while Clint Steindl, Matt Kenyon and Jack McVeigh have been consistent.
The JackJumpers have defeated United twice in the regular season, taking plenty of confidence into this mouth-watering series.